I have taught a lot runners and triathletes yoga. So, when I ask those students why they do yoga, I get a list of reasons including stretching, strengthening, relaxation, etc. Rarely, do I hear people say that they practice yoga to run faster or push harder. It seems counter intuitive. I know that in order to run faster, you need to train for it… you have to be strong and you have to be running at that speed in training. However, I think yoga has another benefit that makes us faster.
It teaches us about suffering.
I don’t mean the suffering that you get from an injury. This suffering is the slight discomfort you get from holding a pose for a little longer than is comfortable. If you want to feel it, go into plank for about 30 seconds, and I promise you will suffer… just a little. Poses like extended side angle, boat, half moon, and many others, can teach us a lot about our minds and how we react to suffering. There are days when you will find that quiet place within yourself, but there are other days when you just can’t shut the mind off. When you start a yoga practice, more often than not, you can’t turn your mind off.
So… what does this have to do with running fast?
When I was running in the Rocky Mountain Half Marathon last weekend, I allowed myself to push a little harder than normal, to a place where I was just beginning to feel that same suffering that I get in more difficult yoga postures. Holding that level of suffering for 13.1 miles is not easy. It takes practice. But most of my running, lately, has been very slow. I didn’t push to that level of suffering in my running… I did it in my yoga practice. And trust me… no yogi ever enjoys holding hard postures. More than any other part of yoga, holding postures takes a lot of practice.
So, we don’t always have to push our minds only in our running. We can do it by practicing simple, but challenging, yoga postures. Sometimes we can practice by remaining seated and quiet. Create PR’s for how long you can hold a chair pose and you’ll see how quickly your mind is able to adapt to running just a little harder. I am certainly not the first person to think of this. Scott Jurek uses matras from his yoga classes when running long distance. It creates a quiet place in his mind when the going gets tough. He just repeats the mantra over and over and reminds himself why he is doing what he is doing. He uses his mind as his super power.
Many of us have the physical capabilities to run faster, but what stops us is that little voice in our heads that says that we have had enough! It takes a lot of practice to push past that voice and continue moving, even though moving isn’t exactly comfortable… even when moving makes us suffer. The simple act of sitting still and quiet can teach us that discipline. We all have this untapped mental power that only requires a little bit of practice.